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American Negro Monographs, No. 4 

Zhc Social Evolution 
of tbe Black Soutb 



Sbe American IRegro flDonoerapbs Co. 

609 F STREET, N. W., (Room 102) WASHINGTON, D. C. 

American Negro Monographs* 

Historical and Educational Papers, Published Occasionally 

by the 

609 F STREET, NL W" (Room 102) WASHINGTON, D. G 

JOHN W. CROMWELL, Editor. R. L. PENDLETON, Publisher 

Vol. I. MARCH, 1911. No. 4. 

The Social Evolution 
of the Black South 


10 Cts. 


Dr. W. E. BURKHARDT DUBOIS is a native of Great Barrington, Mass. 
After receiving an education in the schools of his native'city he entered Fisk 
University, Tennessee, from which he graduated with the degree of A. B. He 
subsequently graduated from Harvard and received the degree of Ph. D. He 
obtained a scholarship and studied two years abroad. Returning to the U. S., 
he entered upon a distinguished career both as an educator and author. He 
taught at Wilberforce University, and for more than ten years was Professor of 
History and Political Economy in Atlanta University. Dr. DuBois is editor 
of the "Crisis," the organ of the National Association for the Advancement of 
the Colored People. 

i'v$t bequest of 
0%fef Murray, 
Washington, D< G* 


The Social Evolution of the Black 



; HAVE worded the subject which I am going to treat 
briefely in this paper; "The Social Evolution of the 
I Black South and I mean by that, the way in which 
the more intimate matters of contact of Negroes witli 

themselves and with their neighbors have changed in the evolution 
of the last half century from slavery to larger freedom. It will be 
necessary first in order to understand this evolution to remind you 
of certain well known conditions in the South during slavery. 
The unit of the social system of the south was the plantation, and 
the plantation was peculiar from the fact that it tended to be a 
monarchy and not an aristocracy. 

In the early evolution of England we find men of noble and 
aristocratic birth continually rising and disputing with the monarch 
as to his arbitrary power and finally gaining, in the case of Magna 
Carta, so great influence as practically to bind the monarch to 
their will. In France on the other hand we find continually a 
tendency for monarchs like Louis XIV to gain such power that 
they forced even the aristocracy to be their sycophants, and men 
who, like the rest of the monarch's subjects had no rights which 
the monarch was bound to respect. 

We must now remember that the little plantations which 
formed the unit of the social life in the South before the war 
tended continually to the French model of Louis XIV and went in 
many cases far beyond it, so that the ruler of the plantation was 
practically absolute in his power even to the matter of life and 
death, being seldom interfered with by the state. While, on the 
other hand, the mass of field hands were on a dead level of equal- 


ity with each other and in their subordination to the owners 
power. This does not mean that the slaves were consequently 
unhappy or tyranized over in all cases, it means simply whatjl I 
have said, they were at practically the absolute mercy of the owner. - 
The real owner could be a beneficent monarch- and was in some 
cases in the South — or he might be the brutal, unbridled tyrant — 
and was in some cases in the South. Just where the average lay 
between these two extremes is very difficult to determine with any 
degree of accuracy but the experience of the world leads us te 
believe that abuse of so great power was in a very large number of 
cases inevitable. 

Turning now to this great army of field hands we find them 
usually removed one or two degrees from the ear of the monarch 
by the power of the overseer and his assistants. Here again was 
a broad gate way for base and petty tyranny. The social life on 
the plantation, that is, the contact of slave' with [slave was 
necessarily limited. There was the annual frolic culminating in 
" the Christmas '* ; and there was usually a by-weekly or monthly 
church service. The frolic tended gradually to demoralization for 
an irregular period, longer or shorter, of dissipation and excess. 
Historically it was the American representative of the dance and 
celebration among African tribes with however, the old customary 
safeguards and traditions of leadership almost entirely gone, 
only the dance and liquor usually remained. The church meeting 
on the plantation was, in its historical beginning, the same. Just 
as the Greek dance in the theatre was a species of a religious 
observance in its origin and indeed in its culmination so the 
African dance differentiated : Its fun and excesses went into the 
more or less hidden night frolics ; while its tradition and ceremony 
was represented in the church services and veneered with more or 
less Christian elements. Of the distinctly family social life. The 
whole tendency of the plantation was to leave less and less. 

Polygamy was established and to some extent encouraged into 
the West Indies and its opposite was not systematically frowned 
upon in America, and there was neither time nor place for family 
ceremonial. There was a common sleeping place more or less con 
fined to a family ; a common eating place but few family 
celebrations. Sometimes there was a ceremony of marriage but 


this was an exception among the field hands. There was certain- 
ly no ceremony of divorce and little authority over children. The 
whole tendency of the plantation w 7 as toward communism of 
eating, children and property. — Facts which show their definite 
results among us to-day-some good and some bad. The beautiful 
hospitality , for instance, among our poorest Negroes' and the 
willing adoption of orphan children is balanced against bad systems 
of eating and living and illegitimate births. In and over all these 
plantation organizations there must of course have arisen that 
thing so characteristic of monarchal power, namely, the tale bearer 
and the thief. The man who curries favor by telling on the 
neighbors, and the man who having no chance to earn what he 
wants, steals it. From tale-bearing and deception on the one hand 
and unusual ability and adaptability on the others there arose from 
the dead level of the plantation field hands two classes of incipient 
aristocracy-, namely, the artisan and the house-servant. The 
artisan by natural and acquired manual and mental dexterity 
coupled with more or less keenness of mind became a slave of 
special value. On his ability the whole plantation to a large 
extent depended. He built the houses, he repaired them, made 
and repaired most of the tools, arranged the crops for market ; 
manufactured the rolling stock. As the plantations increased and 
were systematized he became so valuable that he was an article of 
special barter and could by shrewdness himself dictate often the 
terms of his use. Many stringent law T s were mimed against him to 
keep him from becoming too independent. Nevertheless he 
increased in numbers and sometimes bought his own freedom. 
In many cases he acquired property. He was demanded in large 
and larger numbers in the cities and he formed a growing problem 
of the slave system. He is the direct ancestor of . the city Negro. 
Side by side with the slave mechanic and in some cases identical 
with him arose the house-servants; as the mechanic gained his 
power by ability and economic demand the house-servant gained 
a more tremendous and dangerous power by personal contact until 
on some plantations it was actually a question as to whether the 
master would rule his servants or his servants rule him, but when 
such a statement is made it must be interpreted as applying to the 
house-servant and the house- servants were but a small per cent of 


the total number of slaves ; because the house-servant gained 
very intimate knowledge and opportunity to serve the good will 
and even the affection of the master or to pander to his vices and 
because too from the house-servants the great amalgamation of 
the races took place so that the servant was often blood relative 
of the master. In this way the house-servant became even a 
more dangerous person than the mechanic. — More dangerous 
because he could command a more careful protection of his master 
a more intimate protection, and because he inevitably had 
chances for education which the mechanic did not. When there- 
fore, emancipation came it found the cultured house-servant 
further on the road to civilization, followed by the less cultured 
but more effectual artisan and both dragged down by the great 
unnumbered weight of largely untouched field hands. The great 
change which freedom brought to the plantation was the right of 
emigration Jfrom one plantation to another but this right was 
conceded by no means everywhere and is not even until this very 
day. Gradually, however large and larger numbers of field hands 
changed plantations or migrated to town. In the change of plan- 
tations they slowly but surely improved the rate of compensation 
and conditions of work, on the other hand, they remained and 
still remain so far as they stayed on the plantations, a backward 
uneducated class of servants except where they have been able to 
buy land. And even there they have become efficient, pushing 
and rising only in cases where they have education of some degree. 
Now it was the Negro that migrated to town that got a chance for 
education, both in early days and largely so to-day In town he 
met the school and the results of the .school, i. e., he himself 
learned to read and write and he came in more or less contact 
with the things and influence of men who had learned more than 
mere reading and writing. We must then if we would know the 
social condition of the Negro to-day turn our attention to this city 
group. No matter how , much we may believe the country the 
place for the Southern Negro or stress its certain advantages to 
him there, the sad truths remains that the black man who can 
take advantage of these opportunities is represented in the country 
districts in very small numbers and cannot under present circum- 
stances be represented by larger numbers save through cot?? 


scientious, systematic group effort. It is the city group of 
Negroes, therefore that is the most civilized and advancing and it 
is that group whose social structure we need to study. It is in 
the south above all a segregated group, and this means that it is 
the group that lives to itself, works by itself worships alone and 
finds education and amusement among its own. This segregation 
is growing, and its growth involves two things true in all evolu- 
tion processes, namely, greater differentiation and greater in- 
tegration. Greater differentiation from the white group in, for 
instance, the schools of the city which it inhabits, the interests 
which attract it ; the ideals which inspire it and the traditions 
which it inherits. On the other hand greater integration in the 
sense of stronger self consciousness, more harmonious working 
together with a broader field for such co-operation. We often 
compare the North and South with regard to these things and 
pointing to the tremendous co-operation of the southern city group 
we urge the Northern group to follow its foot-steps without 
stopping to think that tremendous and even harsh differentiation 
must precede and accompany all such integration and in so far as 
that differentiation is absent in the North, it is this absence here 
that it gives a chance for a slower but larger integration in the 
North which may in the long run, and already has, helped the 
smaller intenser integration of the black Southern group- Now 
to illustrate just what I mean by the integral life of the Southern 
group let me point the possibilities of a black man in a city like 
Atlanta to-day. He may arise in themorningin a house which a 
black man built and which he himself owns ; it has been painted 
and papered by black men ; the furniture was probably bought at 
a white store, but not necessarily, and if it was, it was brought to 
the house by a colored draman ; the soap with which he washes 
might have been bought from a colored drug store ; his provisions 
are bought at a Negro grocery ; for the most part his morning 
paper is delivered by a colored boy ; he starts to work walking to 
the car with a colored neighbor and sitting in a part of the car 
surrounded by colored people ; in most cases he works for white 
men but not in all. he may work for a colored man or a colored 
family ; even if he works for a white man his fellow wo kmen 
wit)? whom he gomes, {u cgntact ^re %\\ colored ; with them he eats 

his dinner and returns home at night ; once a week he reads a 
colored paper ; he is insured in a colored insurance company ; he 
patronizes a colored school with colored teachers, and a colored 
church with a colored preacher ; he gets his amusements at places 
frequented and usually run by colored people ; he is buried by a 
colored undertaker i na colored grave- yard. In his section of the 
city few or no white people live, consequently his children grow 
up with colored companions ; in his home a white person seldom 
if ever enters ; all the family meals, amusements and ceremonies 
are among his own people. Now such a situation means more 
than mere separation from white people ; it means, as I have 
intimated before, not simply separation but organized provision 
for the service of this colored group. The group must see to it 
that religion, education, amusements, etc., are furnished its 
members, and while some of these things are left to chance more 
and more such groups are conscientiously exerting themselves to 
provide for themselves in these ways and this is what I mean by 
integration. The place, however, where the separation cannot be 
made perfect is in matters of work in economic co-operation and 
here the Negro in this city group occupies one of two very 
different positions : he may be and often is one of those who is 
engaged in service which the group as such demands, i. e., a 
teacher, a lawyer, a physician, a druggist, an artisan whose clients 
are colored or a servant for colored people. This group of em- 
ployees are growing rapidly but it is a small group and a group 
naturally paid relatively small wages. On the other hand, the 
great mass of this city group are persons whose employment makes 
them a part of the whole economic organization of the South and 
Nation. These are the great mass of laborers, porters, servants 
and artisans. Their contact with the white group is considerable 
and constant and in that contact enters and necessitates continual 
existence of social intercourse. It is here that the great battle of 
the race question is being fought. But fought as you will 
perceive, not by the most highly educated and able members of 
the group but, usually, by the middle class workiugman and very 
often too the tendency is rather to separate that group of men 
from its natural intellectual leaders ; This in the Southern city 
group of yesterday was possible, but is to-day being made more 


and more impossible because these natural leaders are seeking 
economic improvement as leaders of the integrating forces of the 
race. They depend^ therefore, for their enumeration upon this 
mass of workingmen and upon the loyalty with which this mass 
of workingmen co-operate in organization. They must, therefore, 
cater to the whims and, likes and dislikes of the mass of the Negro 
people. This makes physicians and their kind, like teachers, 
preachers and lawyers drawn to the mass of their people by strong 
cords of self-interest because their bread and butter lies in the 
masses hands, while on the other hand, this same mass is 
tremendously dependent upon this intellectual aristocracy for such 
organization of their life as will make their life pleasant and 
endurable. Consequently there has grown up in the new South 
among the city groups certain well defined social classes with 
comparatively few social chasms. Roughly speaking, there is a 
large middle class of working people ; an upper class of pro- 
fessional people and a lower class of the poor and semi-criminal. 
The upper class find their social intercourse among themselves 
and in contact with the mass of laborers whom they meet in 
church, in the. lodge, in the school and neighborhood and in the 
streets. The middle class of laborers have most of their social 
contact with themselves, occasional contact with their town upper 
class and- also .a large semi-social contact with the whites through 
their occupations as house-s.ervants, artisans, porters, etc. The 
last class of the very poor and semi-criminal have little or no con- 
tact with their own people outside their own class but a very 
large and a very intimate contact with certain classes of .whites. 
Now these facts are perfectly real to one who knows the South 
and are true in some degree of Northern cities, but they lead to 
certain results to which few people give intelligent thought. 
Namely ; in case the white group wishes to communicate with the 
Negro group its only method of commnnication is through the 
middle class of workingmen. The white people of Atlanta do 
not know the colored teachers, physicians, lawyers or merchants. 
They do know the servants, the porters and the artisans. They 
are therefore, continually led to assume that the Negroes whom 
they do not know or meet are either nonexistent or are quite a 
neligible quantity. They do not realize first that there is a group 


of greater education and ability than they have met right in their 
own midst and secondly they do not realize that that higher 
group is an organ unit with the mass of workingmen, and 
that consequently it is quite impossible to deal to-day with the 
mass of Negroes without taking this upper class into account. 
Then again the poor and semi-criminal class looms large in the 
eyes of the white community because of their dependence and 
and their delinquencies, and when there comes the question of the 
reformation or proper punishment of this class the white commun- 
ity is at an utter loss as to where to appeal. They see with perfect 
justice that the Negro laborer although himself honest is not 
capable of bearing the burden of reforming his criminals. The 
whites themselves cannot do it because they lack the human 
contact and charity. They consequently make no trial and leave 
this class to be abused by the economic and social exploitation of 
their own worst white elements. This but inflames and degrades 
and makes worst the Negro criminal classes. On the other hand, 
the upper class of Negroes has no way of communicating with its 
white neighbors at any rate of speaking with sufficient authority, 
so that these whites will realize that they are at least the nucleus 
of the class who can deal with the problem of race contact and 
crime. This then in brief is the situation. What now is the 
mental attitude engendered by it ? 

The chief results among both black and whites is evidence of 
peculiar moral strain. A strain which does not always voice itself; 
indeed which finds it difficult to choose words, but a strain never- 
theless which is manifested in a hundred different ways. Both 
white men and black men try to hide it. Ask a black man about 
conditions in the South and he is evasive ; he speaks upon this 
and that pleasant point but of the whole situations of the general 
trend he does not wish to speak, or if he does speak his speech is 
difficult to understand. Precisely the same thing in differing ways 
is true of the white man, and it leaves the outside spectator 
peculiarly puzzled. The fact is that both black and white in the 
South endure the present pain and bitterness but see a wonderful 
vision. The black man endiires segregation and personal 
humiliation but sees the development and unfolding of a human 
group, one of the most fascinating and iuspiring of spectacles, 


The white man endures the moral contradiction of conscious 
injustice and meanness, but sees the vision of a white world with- 
out race problems where all men can really be brothers with an 
intense yearning for democracy but democracy upon certain terms. 
With them the evil and the vision, there must be among both 
black and white a daily and hourly compromise. The black man 
can daily balance thinge and say " Is the vision of a strongly 
developed race worth the present insult, or blow or discrimination? 
The white man must say "Is the promise of a real democracy 
worth the present lie and deception and cruelty ? The neces- 
sity of these daily compromises leads to three sorts of mental 
attitudes among both races. The man who sees the situation 
clearly and lies about it ; the man who sees the situation and 
resents it; and the man who does not clearly understand the cir- 
cumstances and is silent and sensitive under the ruthless 

Among the first of these three attitudes is the wily and oily 
orator who attends ^Northern chatauquas and tells of his love for 
his black mammy ; the brutal hot-headed brawler and lyncher who 
wants to fight a desperate cause bnt takes it out in fighting the 
helpless ; and finally the man who typifies what is called the 
14 silent South". On the part of the Negro there are avowed also 
the three types : tee wiley and crafty man who tells the North and 
the Negro of the kindness of the South and advance of the black 
man ; the fighter who complains or shoots or migrates ; and the 
silent sensitive black man who suffers but says nothing. Now of 
these three types I am free to say that the one of whom I hope 
most is the white brawler and the black fighter ; I mean by that 
not that lynching is not horrible and fighting terrible but I do 
mean that these are types of men of a certain rough honesty. 

Your Tillmans and your Vardamans represent a certain 
disgusting but honest ignorance which acts upon its information 
and some day when it gets the right information it is going to act 
right. On the other hand, I believe that at the end of the 
devious way of the cempromiser and liar lies moral death. 

I do not believe that the systematic deception concerning the 
the situation in the South either on the part of white men or black 
Mm will in the long-run help that situation a single particle. 


I sincerely hope, therefore, that out of the white silent South and 
from the ranks of the silent and sensitive Negroes will come men 
who will approach the lyncher and fighter with their barbaric 
honesty of purpose and will bring to the situation that large know- 
ledge and moral courage which will enable them to say that 
this is wrong in the South and that is right, and I am f ighting 
for the right ; who will stoop, if necessary, but will let no man 
ever doubt but that they stoop to conquer. 

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No. 4. — "The Social Evolution of the Black South" 10 Cents. 
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